The Emergence of Carignan in Chile’s Maule Valley

Old Vine Carignan

Old Vine Carignan

After decades of successfully exporting good quality entry level wines, Chile has emerged as an important producer of premium wine. In our Report #21: The Chilean Wine Revolution we called attention to the increasing number of wineries that are producing new and exciting wines in re-discovered and newly discovered regions. In cool climate coastal regions such as Casablanca, San Antonio, Elquí, and Limarí, several wineries are crafting crisp and mineral-rich Sauvignon Blanc and elegant Pinot Noir. In the more temperate regions of Maipo, Aconcagua, Colchagua and Cochapoal, they are turning out richly flavored Carmenere and fruit-forward red blends. And in the South of Chile in the Bio-Bio, Malleco and the Maule Valley, wineries are proving they can produce distinctive Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and terroir-driven Carignan. Indeed, the emergence of premium quality Carignan in the hot dry Maule region is proving to be an exciting success story of the Chilean Wine Revolution.

Carignan is not new to Chile. It has been grown in the Maule Valley for more than 70 years. First planted on a large scale in the early 1940s, it served as a work horse grape for blending. The grape’s high acidity, color and flavor were all seen as helpful additives to improve the local wines. Carignan is a rustic grape originally grown in the Mediterranean regions of France (Languedoc) and Spain (Priorat). It exhibits good acidity, ripens late in the season and grows well in the hot dry Maule Valley where mildew is not a problem.

Although this workhorse variety was primarily used for blending, Chilean winemakers have recently come to realize that their head-pruned, old vine Carignan can produce exciting wines. Most of Chile’s old vineyards are 30+ years old, dry farmed and hand-harvested. The wines come in a variety of styles. Some wines exhibit pure red berry fruit and toasted oak while others tend towards darker red plum, mulberry and black fruit. While most are aged in French and American oak, others are produced with little or no oak and reveal considerable earthiness and terroir.

ART CH Carignan VIGNOVigno “Vignadores de Carignan” is an organization of growers and winemakers for the marketing and promotion of Carignan of the Maule Valley. It was established in November 2009 by 12 founding wineries, representing a mix of small and medium-sized producers. They are: Bravado Wines, De Martino, Garage Wine Co, Viña Gillmore, Viña Lomas de Cauquenes, Viña Meli, Miguel Torres, Morandé, Odfjell, Undurraga, and Valdivieso. Vigno wines must be made from at least 65% old, dry-farmed Carignan vines from Maule. The vines have to be dry-farmed and head pruned bush vines (gobelet). Vigno has helped put Chilean Carignan on the map and is dedicated to preserving the vineyards and promoting the quality of Carignan worldwide.

Following are our tasting notes and ratings of Carignan. We thank Wines of Chile for its assistance in obtaining samples.

Anakena 2010 Carignan Single Vineyard Pircún Maule Valley ($15) 89+ The Anakena Carignan exhibits lightly fruited red mulberry aromas on the nose with prominent notes of cedar. Aged for 12-14 months in 50% new oak, it has a ripe and lush mouth feel with dark fruit flavors, hints of chocolate and loam, and a dry long finish. Importer: Evaton Inc Stanford, CT

Canepa 2009 Genovino Carignan Maule Valley ($35) 89 The Canepa Carignan exhibits aromas of mint, coconut and chocolate on the nose. Aged for 12 months in French and American oak, it shows modest red fruit flavors on the palate with hints of mint, earth and garrigue. It has rather dry tannins and is a bit short on the finish. Importer: Excelsior Wine Company, Brookville, NY

De Martino 2008 La Agguada Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines Maule Valley ($45) 91 This Carignan is sourced from a field blend of Carignan, Malbec and Cinsault, It has a distinctive nose of plum, earth, crushed stone and smoke. Aged for 24 months in French and American oak, it is ripe and firmly structured on the palate with bold fruit flavors, soft round tannins and a long finish. Importer: Opici Import Company Milford, CT

De Martino 2009 El Leon Single Vineyard Carignan Maule Valley ($45) 92  The El Leon Single Vineyard Carignan exhibits a ripe nose of dark red mulberry fruit and earth and a lush and soft attack with notes of autumn leaves, minerals, violets and purple plums on the palate. Aged for 15 months in neutral French oak, it is beautifully balanced and somewhat more elegant than the La Agudada Carignan. Importer: Opici Import Company Milford, CT

Garage 2010 Carignan Lot #29 “Vigno” Maule Valley ($33) 90  Lot #29 displays red berry fruit, garrique and tobacco on the nose. The palate boasts ripe and flavorful dark plum fruit and earth. Aged for nine months in neutral French oak, this wine is nicely balanced with round tannins and a very long finish. Importer: Southern Wine Group

Garage 2010 Lot #27 Carignan Maule Valley ($33) 92  Lot #27 offers aromas of red berry fruit, plum, herbs and earth. It is lush and elegant on the palate with minerals, loam and blue fruit notes. Beautifully balanced, it reveals ripe tannins and a lovely chalky finish. Importer: Southern Wine Group

Gillmore 2009 Carignan Old Vines Dry Farmed Lonconmilla Valley ($35) 89
The 2009 Gilmore Carignan displays sweet dark red fruit with lots of toasted vanilla oak on the nose that is mirrored on the palate. Aged for 18 months in new and used oak, it offers a big lush mouth feel with chalky dry tannins and thick extract on the finish. Those who love oak and alcohol will love this wine. Importer: The Artisan Collection, New York, NY

Meli 2010 “Vigno” Carignan Maule Valley ($16) 87+ This Carignan exhibits pure red berry fruit on the nose and has a fruit forward palate of concentrated red fruit flavors. Aged in 90% stainless steel and 10% used oak, it is full flavored on the palate but finishes a bit short dry, and hot. Importer: Global Vineyard Importers Berkeley, CA

Meli 2009 Dueño de la Luna Carignan Maule Valley ($35) 91+ The Dueño de la Luna Carignan is a big step up in quality from the regular Carignan. Aged for 12 months in stainless steel and six months in French oak, it offers dark red cherry fruit on the nose with touches of mint and chocolate. It has a beautifully delineated palate of intensely flavored ripe fruit and toasted oak. It is nicely balanced with gripping tannins on the finish. Importer: Global Vineyard Importers Berkeley, CA.

Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Carignan Maule Valley ($25) 90 The Miguel Torres Cardillera Carignan displays an aromatic nose of dark savory fruit with notes of earth, garrigue, and minerals. It is nicely balanced with good acidity and freshness and firm tannins on the finish. It spends 11 months in French oak, 30% new. Importer: Dreyfus Ashby & Co.

Morandé 2009 “Vigno” Carignan Maule Valley 88 The Morandé “Vigno” Carignan offers aromas of dark plum fruit, vanilla and cedar on the nose. A blend of 69% Carignan, 26% Syrah and 5% Chardonnay, it has a good concentration of black cherry fruit flavors on the palate but also exhibits sweet lingering oak that dominates the wine. Importer: Morande USA

Morandé 2008 Edición Limitada Carignan Maipo Valley ($23) 93  The Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan exhibits a beautiful spicy nose with pure berry fruit and a touch of caramel. Aged for 20 months in American oak, it is lush and full on the attack with sweet black cherry and lingering toasted oak on the palate. It has a velvet like mouth feel with layers of flavor, lasting thick extract, and firm tannins on the finish. Importer: Morande USA

O. Fournier 2011 Urban Carignan Maule Valley ($12) 88  The Urban Carignan is a spicy, fruit-forward wine with aromas of red plum and mulberry and notes of underbrush and earth. It is medium weight and offers red fruit flavors on the palate with herbal notes. It has high acidity and firm gripping tannins on the finish. Importer: Fine Estates from Spain Dedham, MA

O. Fournier 2011 Centauri Carignan Maule Valley ($20) 90 O. Fournier’s Centauri Carignan is a more substantial wine than the Urban. It offers fragrant aromas of dark plum with notes of mint, chocolate and violets. It reveals a velvet texture on the palate with good fruit and herbal flavors, high acidity, and soft round tannins on the finish. Importer: Fine Estates from Spain Dedham, MA

Odfjell 2009 Carignan Maule Valley 88  This Carignan has dark plum and mulberry fruit on the nose with an overlay of sweet oak. It is soft on the attack and reveals a palate of moderate fruit concentration and has a high alcoholic finish. (15.5% alc.)

Oveja Negra 2009 Single Vineyard Carignan Maule Valley ($18) 89+  A blend of 87% Carignan, 9% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot, the Oveja Negra Single Vineyard Carignan exhibits a dark ruby color and aromas of dark plum fruit, herbs and earth.. Sourced from 40-year old vines and aged for 12 months in French oak, it is soft on the attack with pure ripe fruit flavors, a hint of oak, round tannins and a long finish. Importer: Vivi Wine and Spirits

Santa Carolina 2009 Dry Farming Carignan Maule Valley ($20) 91 This Carignan exhibits a rich, dark red-fruited nose with earth and herbal notes. Aged for 10 months in French oak, it is soft and lush on the palate with a nice blend of sweet oak and dark red fruit. It is elegant and nicely balanced with ripe round tannins on the finish. Delicious wine. Importer: Carolina Wine Brands

Santa Ema 2007 Amplus Carignan Maule Valley ($22) 91+  This is a lovely elegant wine with delicious dark red plum fruit aromas and flavors. Aged for 18 months in new French and American oak, it is beautifully balanced with excellent integration of fruit and oak, firm tannins, and a long fruit rich finish. Importer: TGIC Woodland Hills, CA

Undurraga 2010 Carignan Old Vines Dry Farmed Maule Valley 90  A blend of 88% Carignan and 12% Cinsault, this is a fresh and youthful wine offering aromas of blueberries with light earthy notes and cracked pepper. It is ripe and lush on the palate with firm round tannins on the finish. Importer: Vision Wine and Spirits.

Undurraga 2009 T.H. Carignan Maule Valley ($25) 91+ The T.H. Carignan offers savory, red berry fruit and herbs on the nose and has a refined plate showing dark red fruit, loam and a hint of underbrush and earth. Aged for 14 months in French oak, 17% new, it is nicely focused with firm gripping tannins and a long lingering finish. A beautiful wine. Importer: Vision Wine and Spirits.

Valdivieso 2008 Eclat Carignan Maule Valley ($24) 87 A blend of 65% Carignan, 20% Mourvedre and 15% Syrah, the Eclat displays red berry fruit on the nose with savory herbal notes. It is rather rustic and slightly bitter on the palate with dark berry fruit and big gripping tannins on the finish.

Mike Potashnik and  Don Winkler

April 2013

Note: This article was previously published on our home page.

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